If we could control events, most of us would never want our elders to be so sick that they need the care of a nursing home, especially homes that are still operating in the dark ages, as some of them still are. Many homes have now moved forward into person-centered care, and reluctant caregivers often find their elders thrive, once they have adjusted. Still, it’s hard.
For many caregivers, placing an elder in a home spells failure on the part of the caregiver. Even when carers know they’ve done all they can, a subconscious nagging voice often tells them they are giving up on their parents or spouse. I’m here to tell you that you are not giving up. You are just getting help.
Often There Is No Real Choice
I cared for multiple elders, juggling their needs along with those of young children of my own. Those were some pretty crazy times. I felt driven to give each person the best care humanly possible. To do so meant that many of my elders lived their last months or years in a nursing home.
We were fortunate. There was an excellent home, by the standards of the time, near my house. I could run from my house to my mom’s apartment, to my mother-in-law’s condominium, to the nursing home and back and still pick up my kids from school. It was tough, but it worked.
Were my elders always thrilled about being in a nursing home? No. However, they did benefit in many ways, and frankly there was no alternative choice. I’m simply grateful we had a fine facility so close by, one where I didn’t have to fight to be part of the care team.
Many people who comment on OurAlzheimers find that their own efforts are no longer enough for their elder’s needs. In-home care agencies can’t do it all either. Elders needs generally keep growing as the elder becomes more disabled from Alzheimer’s, stroke or other illnesses. When I read notes from caregivers, I feel the guilt of the writer bleed through their words. I get their pain and general feeling of helplessness.
We’ve recently seen one woman, who is very active in the OurAlzheimer’s community, go through the full process. Each decision was agonizing. After trying everything imaginable, her father-in-law was placed in a nursing home. It’s turned out that he is now happier than he’s been for quite some time. The family is amazed. Who could have guessed?
What If the Results Aren’t So Positive?
Nearly everyone who enters a nursing home to live goes through a period of adjustment. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve had to leave their home, or at least their most recent one. They’ve had to weed out belongings, or their family has had to do so, to get things down to fit in one little room, or even a shared room. In the process, cherished items are lost. They’ve lost, or feel they’ve lost, independence. They’ve been losing friends to illness and death. And now this. An “old folk’s home.” Yes, they need time to adjust. Anyone would.
Some never do. Does that make you, the caregiver, a bad person? No, it doesn’t. Often, by the time a person does go to a nursing home, there is little quality of life left. Some people feel they have some control if they can complain and get a reaction. Some are just miserable and need sympathy. You, the caregiver, will do all you can to alleviate the pain, but you can’t make everything all right.
Some fortunate elders are resilient enough to get through this period of adjustment, and then thrive. My mother-in-law was such a person. Once she entered the home, she all but lost her generalized fear and paranoia. She made new friends for the first time in years. She ate better. She slept better. Her transition was a joy to watch.
To be sure, a good nursing home is easier to adjust to than a substandard one. And we as caregivers need to keep an eye out to make sure our loved ones get the best care possible. We need to be advocates, though not adversaries. That is only smart.
Assuming the care is as good as we can expect, we need to accept that we have now expanded the care team. We may even have trouble using the time we gave to our loved one in a productive manner, because to enjoy ourselves makes us feel guilty. We need to get beyond that. Our loved ones wouldn’t want us to wallow in guilt.
Frequently, I drive by the home where my loved ones lived. Most of the time I barely notice it, but sometimes I do and then I can second guess myself on the timing of each nursing home placement. That thought process can lead me astray. When that happens, I need to quickly come back to real life. I did all I could do, and then some. I did my best for them as they did for me. Life goes on.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.